May 22, 2013

BEHIND THE SCENES: An alumnus of Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C., Jared Barker trained to become a chef. But the Virginia native was bitten by the waiter bug after the owner of New Heights in Woodley Park asked the then-prep cook to help out in the dining room during a long-ago Restaurant Week.

Barker, 26, went on to be a server at the wine-themed Proof in Penn Quarter, which is where he met Sebastian Zutant and Michael Friedman, now among the co-owners of the fledgling Red Hen in Bloomingdale, Barker’s new perch.

Officially, Barker is a “service organizer” at the Italian-accented establishment, but Zutant introduces him as the restaurant’s “front-of-the-house sous-chef.”

A brief Q&A:

Tell me about your commute: Most of the staff live within walking distance of the Red Hen. I drive 88 miles, round trip, from my homestead in Fauquier County.

You’re a farmer, too? My wife and I saved up our money to buy 10 acres. It’s my adult sandbox. As much as I love living in the city, I’m a country boy at heart. We have 16 egg-laying chickens; I’m expecting to buy two piglets from a neighbor. There’s a garden, too, where we grow herbs, tomatoes, garlic and onions. I call it a mirepoix garden [for the aromatic vegetable mixture typically used by cooks in stocks and sauces].

About those chickens. . . Instead of a coop, they live in what’s called a chicken tractor, a movable structure with a mesh floor that allows them to peck in new pasture every day.

What’s the difference between working in the kitchen vs. the dining room? I love both equally. As a cook, you get to create something with your own two hands. In the front of the house, you get to see the payoff, the reaction of customers. I’m thrilled when I can open somebody’s world to something else on the menu, like sweetbreads [the thymus gland of an animal].

What do you look for when hiring servers? Drive and personality. Everything else is teachable.

Any tip for diners? Had a bad day? Let me help make you happy.

— Tom Sietsema

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